R.I.P. Toronto tunnel, we hardly knew ye.
After what was likely months of arduous work, your neatly excavated innards were crudely filled in by police earlier this year. Though you may never have served the purpose for which you were built, your legacy lives on in our hearts, minds and archived tweets.
Your location near York University, your structural integrity and your curious contents – light bulbs, a pulley system, food and drink containers, a sump pump and a rosary with a Remembrance Day poppy nailed to the wall – captured our imaginations. Some are convinced would-be terrorists planned to launch an attack while hiding out inside you, while others mused you might have been a cramped but dry temporary apartment for athletes visiting for the Pan Am Games who wished to illegally extend their stay in Canada. Even horror master Stephen King weighed in, suggesting on Twitter that aliens planned to use you to watch tennis at the nearby Rexall Centre or “to kidnap earth women and repopulate their dying planet.”
Toronto Police have said they don’t believe you posed any sort of security threat to the Pan Am Games. In this light, The Globe and Mail explored the plausibility of the three least outlandish theories out there.
The theory: A survivalist’s fallout shelter.
Why it’s plausible: When news broke of the tunnel’s discovery, self-described survivalist/prepper Robert James Studer received a few calls from friends. “Robert, you’ve been digging again?” they asked, half-jokingly. Mr. Studer has been prepping – preparing for the apocalypse – since 1999, when the Y2K threat loomed large. That year, he built a panic room in the basement of his Oshawa home to protect his family “if the computers failed and the nukes were all launched.” They didn’t and they weren’t, but the panic room is still stocked with enough food to last five days if economic collapse or some other disaster sends society into a tailspin. He was impressed by the size of the bunker discovered this week, which he estimates could hold between six to 12 months’ worth of food. (Freeze-dried, not canned, is the way to go, he says, as the freezing and thawing of canned goods hastens their decay.) Using spaces like this for caching is very popular right now in the prepper community, Mr. Studer says, because it’s much cheaper than planning ventilation and heating for a live-in bunker.
Why it doesn’t add up: There are no houses nearby. Most preppers tend to build their emergency bunkers near their homes for easy access to their goods when the end times come. It’s all about location, location, location.
The theory: A marijuana grow op.
Why it’s plausible: What does weed need to grow well? Light, warmth and water – and if it’s an illegal operation, an out-of-site location. This underground bunker had it all: The moisture-resistant bulbs would provide artificial light, the bunker was dug deep enough to be below the frost line (police say the temperature was about 20 C) and the pulley system found in the space could conceivably be used to transport water. Similar bunkers have been discovered by police in Western Canada, including four in B.C. in the spring of 2013, says RCMP Sgt. Lindsey Houghton. “They were very elaborate,” she says. One was beneath a phony stable and horse paddock. Another was in a setting made to look like a hobby farm (the power-supplying generator and exhaust pipe were concealed by a manure spreader). Some were roughly the same size as the Toronto one.
Why it doesn’t add up: Wouldn’t the accessory found nailed to the wall have been a stoner choker made of woven hemp, or a skull-adorned Hells Angels baseball cap, rather than a rosary and poppy?
The theory: A prank.
Why it’s plausible: Remember that viral video of the wolf scampering down the hallway past a U.S. Olympian’s hotel room at last year’s Sochi Winter Olympics? Or the one of a woman doing a handstand twerk in her bedroom, then falling over, crashing through a candle-covered table and catching on fire? Both were breathlessly covered by mainstream media, and ultimately revealed to be the work of the diabolical team at Jimmy Kimmel Live. Canadian prankster Nathan Fielder has also duped us and won extensive media coverage for his stunts, including the suspiciously cute YouTube video of a pig rescuing a baby goat at a petting zoo. It was too good to be true. Comedians have made pulling a fast one on mainstream media a sport. In 2015, the only way we should be reacting to an absurd or mysterious news story that comes with compelling video or photos (unless it’s from Florida) is with suspicion. The prank could have been on an even smaller scale, suggests Kajendra Seevananthan, the president of the Lassonde Engineering Society at York. While he says his society was not involved in the creation of the tunnel, he points out that engineering students at rival schools often prank each other. In 2012, University of Toronto students planted a giant fork encased in concrete outside York’s engineering building, riffing off the saying, “If you can hold a fork, you can go to York.”
Why it doesn’t add up: If a prankster were behind this, they would’ve turned up the dial a little more: Maybe a skeleton thrown into the pit; a few dozen tins of Spam, half of them empty; a well-worn copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road; a York University course calendar.